The opening of this week’s Delft Chamber Music Festival was a significant event for two reasons. Firstly, it heralded the return, albeit in a slightly reduced form because of Covid-19, to some sort of normality after last year’s forced cancellation. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it marked the end of an era.

After fourteen years as director of the Festival, Liza Fertschman is handing over the reins to Georgian pianist Nino Gvetadze. Not only did Liza devise the themes each year, she also often took centre stage in many of the performances.

This year’s Festival, with the theme Brave New World, has been invisibly divided into two halves with Liza directing the first and Nino responsible for the second. It’ll be interesting to see if we can spot the join.

Mijn fantasie   22nd July

Our first visit to the Festival this year was to a concert that was unmistakably Liza’s. For Liza everything beautiful starts with imagination and this was an ode to the musical fantasy form.

First on the programme tonight was Purcell’s Fantasy for 5 violins ‘Upon one note’. Purcell’s comely sounds conjured up images of a courtly dance. This was followed by Fantasy no. 5 by the same composer in which the rich sounds of the cello filled the majestic Van der Mandelezaal in Delft’s historic Prinsenhof complex. Both pieces deserved the two enthusiastic curtain calls.

Pianist Enrico Pace twice marched onto the stage and got down to business with gusto to give us an intense, absorbing and playful rendition of Johannes Brahms’ Fantasien op. 116.

The middle section of tonight’s concert came in shape of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of Ten Blake Songs. Olivier Stankiewicz’s light aerial touch on oboe accompanied the excellent tenor Robin Trischler.

To end the evening, after Blake and the doom and gloom of Vaughan Williams, came a treat – the humorously played Phantasy Quartet op.2 by Benjamin Britten, conjuring up a summer meadow filled with the hopping, skipping and squeaking, buzzing and chirping of myriad of creatures – delightful. Olivier Stankiewicz’s sweet oboe provided a birdsong-like fluidity to the piece.

All round, a great evening after all the waiting over the last year and a half. I for one shall miss Liza Fertschman’s enthralling performances, but as we all know, life changes and goes on . . .  Astrid Burchardt

Het eeuwige kind     24th July

Tonight’s programme epitomised the wide variety of music that is presented at the Festival each year. First up tonight was extracts from Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, a spirited and playful performance by Ester Hoppe on violin and the energetic Enrico Pace on a fabulous Steinway grand piano supplied by Piano’s Maene, its rich lower register tones made the air in the grand hall vibrate.

Continuing with the spirited theme of child play, Christian Morgenstern’s mischievous little poems spoke of bed bugs, goats on fire and man-eating bears. Beautifully sung by Robin Trischler and rendered so spookily, that they would have made me shiver with fright in my childhood bed. Enrico Pace back on piano and Niek de Groot on contrabass added the joyful and at times scary accompaniment. If, as a child, I had not already pulled my blanket over my head from hearing the words, the sounds would certainly have made me do just that.   

Next came Morgenstern’s Galgenlieder, a treat for those who have retained a child-like delight in surrealism, absurdism and Dada. The poems were set to music by Igor Stravinsky and Sofia Gubaidulina (1931-), the Tartar-Russian  world famous modern composer whose confrontational work, which some called anti-musical, anti-tune and anti-melody, was deemed “irresponsible” in Soviet Russia. There followed hilarious mini- tales of a squatting midnight mouse, the confessions of a worm, and a lonely knee [sic] travelling the world on its own after its owner had been shot dead in the war, among others.

Niek de Groot extracted surprising sounds from his double bass, Pepe Garcia dashed from one percussion instrument to the other, but the star of the show was undoubtedly alto Helena Rasker who interpreted both texts and abstract music with charm and much comedy to a very appreciative, socially distanced audience.   Astrid Burchardt

Der Wanderer and La fin du temps        30th July

For our final visit to the 2021 Festival we were in for a treat.

Franz Schubert, for me, almost epitomises chamber music so I was pleased to see that the Festival had dedicated a whole concert to him. Der Wanderer, named after the eponymous lied (D.489), was made up of what one might call smaller pieces.

First up was the 1874 Notturno Piano Trio in E-flat Major D897 beautifully played by incoming Festival director Nino Gvetadze on piano, violinist Frederieke Saeijs and Maja Bogdanovic on cello.

And then, I guess, the focal point of the concert, Der Wanderer itself, sung by Dutch soprano Laetitia Gerards accompanied by Bart van de Roer on piano. With words by the German poet Georg Philipp Schmidt (von Lübeck) Ms Gerards demonstrated her fine voice and stage presence singing this rather melancholic song with a somewhat spiteful sting in the tail. Laetitia Gerards can often be seen in opera around the Netherlands and in April 2019 made her debut with De Nederlandse Reisopera. Der Wanderer was followed by equally doleful, Der Doppelgänger, with words by Heinrich Heine, one of the fourteen songs that make up Schwanengesang (Swan Song) D.957

Nino Gvetadze then returned to the stage with violinist Barnabás Kelemen to give us the much more upbeat Sonata No. 4 for violin and piano ‘Grand Duo’ in A Major op.posth.162, D574. For this piece Schubert was very much asserting himself, going a long way to shed the earlier influence of Mozart. Both musicians played with great panache without overshadowing the subtler passages with Mr Kelemen’s virtuoso skills much in evidence.

This excellent lunchtime concert was brought to an end by the two pianists we had already met. Ms Gvetadze and Mr van de Roer snuggled up close and brought the concert to a thrilling climax with a vigorous rendition of another late work, the 1828 Fantasy in F minor op. posth.103, D940 for 4 hands.   Michael Hasted


Tonight’s concert consisted entirely of Olivier Messian’s rather doom-laden La Fin du Temps. For rather grim family reasons Messian held a particular attraction for me. As I grew up in France and at a lycée in my mid-teens, my friends and I were as aware of Messian as of Jean Cocteau, Boris Vian and Juliette Greco. What was so exciting was that it was not ‘just classical music’ which we often considered boring.

As a military medical auxiliary in WW2, Messian was captured and transported east by the Nazis. La Fin du Temps has an apocalyptic feeling, part despair, part rage – no doubt the composer expected to die of cold and hunger in the grim camps in Poland like many of those around him. Equally surreal is the thought that his ‘quartet’ first performed the piece in sub-zero conditions to both fellow prisoners – and the stunned prison guards.

We had already seen three of tonight’s quartet earlier in the day. The outstanding Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen again displayed his virtuosity and versatility as did Serbia-born cellist Maja Bogdanovic whose maturity and skill received rave reviews for her recent Carnegie Hall recital. Georgian Levan Tskhadadze on clarinet gave a spectacular measured performance with Bart van de Roer returning to the pianist’s stool to make up the quartet.

La Fin du Temps consists of eight very different movements, two of which stood out – Abîme des oiseaux (The Abyss of the Birds) left the excellent Mr Tskhadadze to extract otherworldly plaintif sounds depicting the birds’ desperation. The thunderous Danse de la Fureur, pour les sept Trompettes, had all hands at the pump and filled the concert hall to the rafters like an infernal organ about to explode.  An excellent final visit to the year’s Festival and one that will linger long in the mind.   Astrid Burchardt


You can listen to the ArtsTalk Radio interview with Liza Ferschtman here